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BUSAN 2030

Sebastian was starting to lose it. Approaching two decades of government service, he was constantly on edge during the final year of his life, the agitating tendrils of his anxiety amalgamating into nearly full-blown paranoia.


Sebastian and Avery had gone to a place where not many people know on the other side of the world. They were both on the brink of geopolitical disaster, a few hundred miles behind the war’s frontline. Increasingly, Sebastian sensed that someone was monitoring them, and the pressure of fearing that he and Avery were now in real danger had inflamed his naturally nervous condition.


Busan was South Korea’s second largest city, a coastal port on the southeastern part of the peninsula where the streets smelled of fish and residents lived in gargantuan towers that all looked the same. Several years before Sebastian and Avery’s arrival, when the war had just begun and the United States had officially declared its neutrality, US military bases worldwide started closing, the President asserting that the executive order was a way to keep troops safe and save taxpayer funds. 


The labyrinthine collective of US military installations in the Republic of Korea was one of the few exceptions, along with a handful of logistics hubs in the Middle East that the US still depended on for importing oil. Nobody really knew what the nuclear North in Korea would do and the US regime thought it would be prudent to keep forces close by, just in case the little Rocketman eventually followed through on his threat to launch an ICBM at Washington.


South Korea was the last tangible remnant of an era from generations ago when US foreign policy had once been effective, proof that American intervention in the form of aid and development could rebuild a war-torn nation into one of the world’s most technologically advanced economies, turning a territory previously on the verge of subversion to a sphere of malign influence into one of the United States’ most committed allies. 


Cue Sebastian and Avery’s permanent change of station to the Agency’s forward operating base in Busan. The year-long transfer from HQ was involuntary, a condition of Sebastian’s promotion to GS-15 to become the senior analyst in charge of an operations outpost supporting the 7th Fleet Command, which oversaw all of the United States’ naval forces in the Indo-Pacific theater.


The signs of surveillance that Sebastian noted soon after his and Avery’s arrival were subtle at first. In the penthouse-story apartment that he and Avery shared overlooking the ocean atop of Gwangalli Beach, drawers that Sebastian could have sworn he had closed before heading to work with Avery sometimes were cracked open when they returned. Common everyday household objects, like dish soap and coffee coasters, randomly disappeared.  


Sebastian assumed initially that he was just being forgetful, or that maybe Avery had repositioned items without telling him. By now Sebastian was on the downhill slide of his middle age, his faculties having long ago peaked. He was starting to not remember things like he had used to.


-Hey, I’m not mad or anything, just curious did you leave the bathroom light on before we left this morning?


-No, why?


-Something’s off.


Sebastian gawked at the sconce embedded within the bathroom mirror for what seemed like hours. Was he going crazy? He thought of John Nash, the beautifully minded professor who had won the Nobel Prize in mathematics just after Sebastian had been born, and who was still roaming around Princeton’s campus by the time that Sebastian had enrolled. Sebastian used to see him waiting in line for the salad bar at the student center during lunch. The dude looked gaunt, sickly, almost apparition-like. He had definitely seen some shit. 


Maybe that was the Princeton effect. Sebastian was actually losing his mind too, becoming completely delusional about his entire life, a schizophrenic imagining that he was working for an intelligence agency that never actually existed.


Sometimes Sebastian would hold his badge in his hand and stare at it for minutes, tracing his fingers along the outline of his image ringed by a blue backdrop to convince himself that he wasn’t hallucinating. 


During the in between moments of lucidity when Sebastian could assure himself that he wasn’t entirely insane, only when he was alone though– in the house, in the bathroom at work, walking  along the beach at night singing up at the stars– he would occasionally stick out his tongue into the air, a kinder middle-finger to whomever was on his trail, a signal that he knew, as he would know probably better than anyone else, that nothing he ever did was private, that there quite literally was no place in the world left to hide anymore and that he accepted that truth and didn’t let it stop him from doing his job or living his life.  


What a weirdo.


Well, at least Sebastian had reason to be weird, so he kept trying to persuade himself, according to entries from his journal.


If anyone wanted to target Sebastian at any moment, there was nothing to stop them from taking the hit. Sebastian had learned to accept this possibility several years into the job after a few close encounters while on temporary duty travel elsewhere overseas. The prospect of dying scared him, sure, but there was nothing he could do about it and he thought that it was really up to the fates to decide who should survive and perish, who should win or fail. All he could do was work his hardest to help as many people as he could and hope for the best.


Eventually Sebastian’s suspicion that he and Avery were under surveillance was substantiated. Early one day while Sebastian was out for a jog before going to work, he was running along the boardwalk when another jogger struck up a conversation with him as they were waiting for a stoplight to turn green. The conversation with the pasty, bespeckled man with an Australian accent started off innocently enough.


-G'day mate, I’m new in town on holiday and looking for a running buddy for the morning to help show me around. Mind if I keep pace with you?


-Sure thing.


And so began a 20-minute-long unexpected adventure circling downtown during which the supposed tourist began peppering Sebastian with questions that became progressively invasive. After a series of innocuous softball inquiries about local attractions and food recommendations, the man started to focus on Sebastian’s political beliefs and the specifics of his occupation. Sebastian was a master of deflection, able to improvise a light cover that was both specific enough to be real and boring enough to hopefully get the stranger to lose interest and decide to run elsewhere. 


Sebastian by this point in his career knew too much to believe anymore in coincidences. Nothing was random, and often not how it appeared. His spidey sense had started to ping the moment the stranger had approached him. 


Sebastian’s new follower never got bored in spite of Sebastian’s efforts to dull him with the blase details of his pretend life ‘teaching English abroad as a Mormon missionary’. When the conversation started to die down, the unidentified man took control of the jogging route, insisting on exploring a street near the water’s edge that Sebastian had never previously noticed. A few blocks later the gentleman asked to take a break. Unknowingly, he had led Sebastian right outside the front door of the Russian consulate.


-Could you join me inside while I ask to grab a drink of water?


Without another word, Sebastian sprinted in the opposite direction of the consulate straight for home. He slid through the front door and frantically locked it immediately from behind [Comment: As if that would stop anyone from entering if ‘they’ had really wanted to follow him back for a ‘drink’]. He was completely breathless.


That definitely wasn’t an Aussie on holiday. It was someone from the Russian intelligence services trying to make a recruitment attempt, or worse... They knew exactly who Sebastian was and where he was and how to find him. 


Sebastian turned the bathroom light off and returned to the kitchen where Avery had started to prepare a pre-made lasagna that they had picked up from the base commissary deli on the drive home together that Thursday evening after work. 


Sebastian paced in circles. He knew he shouldn’t say to Avery what he was thinking. By this stage in their relationship differences in opinion on where they should live and what they should do for a profession were pressure points that had been slowly building for them to both make a change, perhaps maybe even for them both to take a turn in separate directions.


Just like every romantic partnership, Sebastian and Avery's was far from perfect and cracks were beginning to form over the once glossy veneer of what had seemed to be an unbreakable love. They had been beautiful once, but then began to move in all directions.


For Avery, the stress of the job, and now the pressure of having to live overseas so close to an active combat zone, had become unbearable.


For Sebastian, he didn’t see any better alternative for them and figured that they were safer if they stayed with the Agency. At least with the Agency they would know what was going on. They could stay apprised of the danger that may lie ahead. They could fight for what was right instead of running away from their problems to hide in a false state of ignorant peace.


Sebastian wanted to fix what was broken, to make things safer for a world that seemed to be headed fast toward a dystopian doom. He still believed it wasn’t a lost cause. Doing what’s right is hard and the hardest things in life, while inconvenient and as painful as they may be, are worth fighting for, so he was certain.


Avery had a different perspective. Avery was afraid and wanted out and wanted to forget everything that they had seen and go home.


If Sebastian told Avery of his suspicions that they were under surveillance, it would just add fuel to the fire for supporting Avery’s argument for them to quit their jobs, to start over entirely for a different life.


Sebastian didn’t need to say what he was thinking for Avery to understand the concern that prompted the question.


-I agree. I’ve noticed weird things happening too, signs of entry. We need to leave Sebastian, I don’t want to do this anymore. It’s not safe. We should just get out. There is a better life somewhere else out there for us both. It's not here. It’s more of a risk for us to stay in than it is to leave. We'll find other jobs eventually. We'll figure it out, we always do.


Sebastian snapped. Lacking any mental reservation, he grabbed the glass vase of roses that he had bought Avery for Valentine’s Day, a centerpiece on their dining room table that had imbued a light note of natural beauty and warmth into the hygienically sparse and sterile contemporary design of their kitchen, a symbol of Sebastian’s love for Avery, against the kitchen cupboard in the opposite direction from where Avery stood. 


The vase shattered into a million shards.


Sebastian was generally a demur soul, seldom giving into anger to the extent where he felt the need to physically break things. This was a new and unprecedented act of frustration. 


He was becoming unhinged.  


After almost two decades of spending every workday learning about the extent to which adversarial nation-states were trying to lie, steal, and kill their way to the top, years of consuming a vast treasure trove of detailed reporting that showed the true extent to which world leaders were scheming to vanquish their enemies through methods of mass killing, some of which had been previously acknowledged, others about which the general public was still clueless either to their existence or to the extent of their proliferation, Sebastian felt a fair degree of stress, to the say the least, and he finally had caved to the pressure.


He was a human, after all.


Before either of them could react, Sebastian’s cell phone rang. It was his boss calling.


-You need to return to base immediately, bring Avery too. I’ll explain later. Hurry. There's not much time.


She sounded pissed. Sebastian and Avery stared at each other. Then Sebastian grabbed the keys and both of their badges and turned to Avery defeated.


-Ok, fine. I give up. We need to go back into the office, I’m not sure why, Chief said she’d explain later, but when we get there I’ll resign. Let’s go. 


There was nothing unusual about the drive back to base, aside from the dead silence that filled Avery and Sebastian’s used 2013 Hyundai Genesis. The sun had set about an hour prior and the shoreline was illuminated by dozens of skyscrapers that pulsed with shimmering colorful displays that never stopped metastasizing into new shapes and patterns. Tourists and locals alike were promenading along the beach, enjoying the soft coastal breeze sipping on boba tea and eating fish-shaped bean cakes, while party goers on miniature yachts in the harbor lit firecrackers and bottle rockets over the water’s black sheen.


It wasn’t until they got to the FOB’s main entrance that they realized something was wrong. Outside the entry control point two Bradley infantry fighting vehicles were pre-positioned and through the cracks in the gate Sebastian could see elements of a company-sized convoy oriented northwestward at about 260 degrees ready to egress the facility. Sebastian’s boss exited the adjoining guard shack screaming.


-YOU FUCKING IDIOT! YOU COMPLETELY MISSED IT! There is a swarm headed right for us and, had you paid closer fucking attention earlier today, you could have given us at least several hours notice. Now we have less than 20 minutes to evacuate. This is all on you Smith. Get the fuck in the truck.


-Hey Avery, you can take this one here. I'll grab the next seat I can find.


Sebastian’s voice cracked. His gait wavered. Guilt flooded his entire being. He thought he had been paying attention. How could he have missed a swarm? They’re swarms, they’re basically impossible to miss. Fuck.


Sebastian sprinted along the column of armored vehicles until he saw an MRAP with an open seat on the front passenger side.  As soon as he closed the door the convoy began to move. Avery and Sebastian were the last members of the team to arrive.


They didn’t get very far.


Within 30 seconds, momentarily after Sebastian’s vehicle had just exited the fence-line to head southwest toward the airfield where a C-5 was already awaiting on the tarmac to shepherd them to safety, the APC just behind Sebastian’s burst into flames. From above, a swarm of hundreds of drones, each the size of a small lawnmower, synchronously began launching  armor-piercing explosive missiles directly at Sebastian, Avery, and the rest of their colleagues.




Flashes of light. 


The air reverberated with the bass of a thousand drums as vehicle after vehicle exploded. 


Sebastian ejected himself from his seat and scrambled into a bush in a fruitless attempt to conceal himself. From the ground he could see that they weren’t just being attacked from above. A contingent of GRU special forces had intercepted the front of the convoy too.


Then Avery appeared with open palms exposed, hands held vertically in the air, a Russian lieutenant grabbing the knap of Avery's neck from behind.


When Sebastian realized what was happening he leapt up from his improvised foxhole and began charging straight toward Avery’s new captors. He didn’t even question the move. If Avery were taken, his life on Earth would no longer matter. Sebastian’s impulse to protect his partner hijacked any sense of rationality.


It was a suicide mission.


Sebastian only got about 10 yards when the company medic side-tackled him, jabbing Sebastian with an incapacitating anesthetic.


That was Sebastian’s final memory of that evening, feeling the scorching burn of the needle’s rapid insertion into his right shoulder as he watched Avery forcibly restrained and pulled into a Russian BMP. 


Sebastian would never forgive himself for what happened that night. Almost all of his teammates were either killed or taken prisoner. It was all his fault.  


Sebastian and Avery should never have stayed in. Sebastian ought to have just listened to Avery to end it all when Avery had first asked. His final words to Avery said in anger, Sebastian was horrified that was how their last moments on this Earth together had ended.


If Sebastian had just listened to Avery from the start, Avery would have been happy. Avery would still be alive.



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